Importing “Skins” Creates Headaches for MTV

“Skins” is a show about teenagers that takes a very frank look at sex and drug use.  It was developed and shown in the UK on the BBC.  In 2011, MTV has created an American version.  It is common practice to adapt UK shows for American television.  “The Office” is recent success of American adaptation.  Some shows work, some fail miserably.  “Skins” is consider a minor hit by drawing over 3 million viewers.  But it is also drawing a lot of negative attention for those organizations associated with it.

Leading the charge against “Skins” is The Parents Television Council (PTC).  The PTC is a conservative organization that promotes family values.  Part of that effort includes warning parents about inappropriate show, pressuring networks to remove the inappropriate shows, and persuading advertisers to stop buy time on inappropriate shows.  Whether or not you agree with their view point, the PTC has well-organized communication plan for creating pressure fueled by the Internet.  Through Internet channels, the PTC can gain signatures for petitions, have people e-mail target networks and advertisers, contact the government, and solicit donations.  They have an excellent model for how public relations can be used to further the goals of activists, especially in the online environment.  It is worth a visit to their web site to see how they use online public relations.

Many people argue that if the PTC does not like a show, then they should not watch the show.  If you review the list of shows the PTC targets, you will probably find a show you like and agree people should just change the channel.  However, the PTC is exercising free speech and have a right to complain about content they do not like.  But that does not mean others have to agree with them or change programming.  “Skins” is pushing the boundaries and the PTC is arguing that it qualifies as child pornography and note it may be the most dangerous show ever. The PTC has requested a Federal investigation into charges of child pornography and exploitation. 

The PTC’s primary targets are advertisers.  They ask people to pressure advertisers to not buy time on inappropriate shows.  The idea is guilt by association.  If they advertisers supports and show that is not family friendly, the advertiser is not family friendly.  If it is difficult to get advertisers for a show, no network will keep running that show.  Television is about money and money comes from advertisers. 

Here is a statement that illustrates the PTC tactic:

“Every single advertiser who sponsored the premiere episode of ‘Skins’ is not only endorsing, but glorifying teen drug and alcohol abuse, not to mention a plethora of baseless sexual content. The following companies and brand names can rest assured that they will be hearing from PTC about their decision to sponsor the program: Schick Hydro, H&R Block, L’Oreal, Subway, Foot Locker, Orbit chewing gum and Extra chewing gum. We sincerely hope these advertisers will agree that the content in ‘Skins’ is harmful to their corporate image,” Winter concluded.

So far, Taco Bell and GM had both stopped advertising on skins. 

Taco Bell said:

A Taco Bell spokesman said Thursday evening, “We advertise on a variety of MTV programs that reach our core demographic of 18 to 34 year olds, which included the premiere episode of Skins. Upon further review, we’ve decided that the show is not a fit for our brand and have moved our advertising to other MTV programming.”

The PTC was very happy with these actions:

The Parents Television Council ™ joined with families and parents to thank Taco Bell for pulling advertisements from MTV’s new show, “Skins.” Following a PTC take action alert asking members to contact Taco Bell about sponsoring the program, the company asserted that the racy content was not in line with its brand.

The PTC also praised General Motors for its swift response after our members contacted GM about two Chevy Volt advertisements which aired during “Skins.”

“PTC applauds Taco Bell for pulling its ad dollars away from the extremely graphic content on MTV’s ‘Skins.’ We express our thanks o n behalf of countless families, especially those who contacted Taco Bell directly with their concerns ,” PTC President Tim Winter said.

“PTC also thanks General Motors for swiftly responding to PTC members’ concerns about Chevy Volt advertisements. GM told PTC that ‘Skins’ was on its ‘do not buy’ list on MTV, and that MTV admitted placing the Chevy commercial on ‘Skins’ in error. GM also stated that MTV had apologized for its error.

“Skins” still has some advertisers.  Viacom, owners of MTV, have asked the show be careful because being associated with child pornography is not what any company wants.

Here is how the creator of the series, Bryan Elsley responded:

Skins is definitely not the most dangerous program ever on television,” Elsley said. “People should just watch the show and see if they feel it’s really as bad as they think. It might be worthwhile reminding people that the first episode of Skins is about a boy who sets out to lose his virginity and realizes later in the episode that he’s not ready.”

H&R Block and Wrigley’s can be added to the list of lost sponsors.  Also ratings for the second episode fell by 50%.

Questions to Consider

1.  How does this case illustrate the power of online public relations/communication?

2.  Is it ethical to use charges of child pornography in this case?  Why or why not?

3.  What else could those associated with “Skins” due to defend the show?

4.  How does the response by Taco Bell serve to validate the efforts of the PTC?

5.  Is this case about free speech or censorship?  Justify your answer.

6.  What is the risk of the PTC effort backfiring by increasing the popularity of “Skins?”

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